Corn stover treated with hydrated or pickling lime can replace grain in beef-cattle feed and may also – to a lesser extent – replace a portion of forage in dairy-cow diets, according to new research.

Hydrated lime, a common food ingredient, has been mixed into ground corn stover and stored a week or bagged or stored in bunkers for longer periods. Then the more-digestible mixture has been mixed with byproducts such as distillers grains and successfully fed to beef cattle, say Iowa State University and University of Nebraska researchers. Wheat straw can also be used.

“We think that two parts distillers grains and one part treated residue by weight can be a pretty effective substitute for corn grain in (beef) rations, and it can be fed at 60% of the diet dry matter. That’s pretty exciting,” says Mike Cecava, director of feed technology at Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM).

ADM joined forces with Monsanto and Deere and Co. to sponsor research on how to sustainably collect corn stover and use hydrated lime, or calcium hydroxide, to easily and safely make it into a more digestible cattle feed.

ADM has continued research into the dairy arena. That involves a Wisconsin study testing the treated corn stover as a grain substitute and a Purdue University study that tested it as a corn silage replacement.

Wisconsin’s lactating-cow study has just been completed, says Mary Beth Hall, a USDA-ARS researcher at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, Madison. She’s worked on the treated-stover concept with University of Wisconsin animal scientist Dave Combs.

“We’re going through the data now to find out just how this can fit with dairy cows. We don’t have the final answer at this point. But I think it might be best to supplement the forage side,” she predicts.

Cecava agrees. “Data from these university trials would suggest we have the opportunity to feed perhaps 10% of the diet dry matter as treated residue such as corn stover. And that can substitute against corn silage.”

“How much corn grain can we replace? I’m not sure yet. Stay tuned, as they say,” Cecava says.

Corn stover tightly holds in carbohydrates until an alkaline agent such as hydrated lime breaks up bonding in cell walls to make the fiber more digestible for rumen microbes and, at the same time, adds calcium.

“And then let’s complement that with our protein ingredients from distillers grains. We call that corn replacement feed, but it really replaces corn, traditional forages and some other types of protein in the beef or dairy ration. It could replace urea, soybean meal or combinations of different protein ingredients,” he says.

Producers who use a treatment method of this sort will be able to “take advantage of more of these opportunity ingredients that they have locally. People can start looking within a very short radius and say, ‘I’ve got corn gluten feed,’ ‘I’ve got distillers grains.’ ‘I’ve got liquid ingredients from a wet-milling operation.’ Then they can start assembling these recipes with the help of a nutritionist or an advisor. They can build the best rations possible at a lower cost.”

Although there’s work to be done before that happens, Cecava predicts “commercial activity” yet this year.

“Mother Nature has dealt us this severe drought, so there’s a lot of interest in all of these alternative feedstuffs. I think what you’re going to see this fall is more companies and more people excited and interested in turning biomass to feed.”